Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Who Will Follow You Home?
Never count the days down on a calendar; the date you're waiting for will feel like a lifetime. At least that was the case when I started counting down to February's Teddies Winter Bear Fest. I went to my first of these bi-annual conventions back in September 2014, and for six months I was eagerly awaiting the next.
The day finally arrived, and at 10:30am, the doors of Kensington Town Hall opened. To save queuing, my mum and I arrived at 11am (although this did mean we missed out on free chocolates passed down the line). Entry to the event is £4 adults and £2 children, but if you sign up to the Hugglets website you get sent a catalogue with free tickets. On the back of these tickets you can fill out your details to enter a prize draw, which gets called out hourly. Winners get a £50 voucher to spend at the event (or the next event if you have already done your shopping).
Inside there are three floors of bears, bears, and yes, you guessed it, more bears. Sitting on her ownsome in the corridor was Dot Bird, who specialises in 'sympathetic restoration of pre 1960s Teddy Bears. Leafing through her impressive portfolio, I saw bears transformed from unrecognisable figures to huggable gorgeousness. She does not have a website, but you can call her on 01765 607131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of the artists and stockists set up their stalls in the same place as last year, making them easy to find and remember (plus there is a map in the booklet at the door). The artist we were most looking forward to seeing was Bisson Bears, who stood immediately to the left of the entrance. Last visit, Mum fell in love with a beautifully handcrafted hare. Although we knew we would not be able to afford one, we wanted another look. Once again, Bisson Bears had some fabulous creations, but unfortunately no hares this time round. All the better I suppose, because we weren't left heartbroken at leaving anything behind.
Maddy Green is a Belgian artist I didn't remember from September. She had a stall filled with antiquated clothes and bears. When I first saw the price, I was shocked at the brilliant value. A rabbit and two elephants that I loved were only £12.30. Surely too good to be true. Yes. What Maddy was selling were D.I.Y kits and accessories. The bears on display were the finished product. This fooled many people, and I think she needed a sign to indicate that it was the pattern for sale to make it clearer.
If you are into arts & crafts, Teddies Winter Bear Fest has two main areas where you can get supplies. In these shops you can buy buttons, fabric, sewing and knitting tools, as well as a huge range of patterns. Mum considered buying a pattern to have a go at, but in the end decide to leave it for the time being and give it some more thought until the next fest. I would love to be able to make my own bear, but I have no sewing skills whatsoever. Simply tying a piece of thread to a needle would be an achievement for me.
Another new stall I discovered was Frank Webster Originals, who sold very reasonably priced classic style mohair bears. There was one that particularly caught my eye, and I said I'd think about it and come back later. I did come back later, but the bear had already stolen by someone else's heart.
I did not let that happen with the rabbit next door. Flopsy by Lanie Bears wouldn't let me leave without him. He is a rather famous bear as the artist made him at a live event in front of other people as part of a demonstration. After I bought Flopsy, I then found his pattern in the Mohair Bear Making Supplies shop. If you are considering making a bear, buying the finished design and the pattern together might be a good idea, as it gives you a three dimensional model to compare your own work to.
Next door to the craft shop, Dean's Ragbook Company displayed their new collection, along with catalogues. I liked Uncle Joe, a brown bear with spectacles, wearing a waistcoat, and unusually for them, velvet cord paw pads.
Apart from rabbits and hares, the only artist bears I have ever bought are from the Charlie Bear Collection, and this visit was no exception. As a show special, The Bear Shop had 10% off all Charlie Bears, so I Snugglebug entered my collection. Other Charlie Bears that followed me home were Crumpet and Forever, which I bought as a 'just because' present for Mum.
Bears can sell very quickly. While I was at the end of one stall, I saw a Charlie Bears hedgehog that I wanted to look at. By the time the crowd had eased off for me to reach it, there was a big gap where it had once sat. At another stall, despite only having been opened an hour, by the time I discovered a gorgeous Paddington, it had already been reserved. I wish I hadn't seen it, because I really liked it.
As well as newly made bears, there are many traders who deal in vintage and antiques. Although they tend not to be in the best of condition, they can be quite expensive because of there rarity. Examples include Disney toys such as Grumpy and Bashful for £55 each, and a scrawny looking Mickey Mouse for £110. For collectors, these are wonderful finds. My finds were even better, however. One seller from Devon had a limited edition mint condition Tigger and Piglet by Steiff. He had them at £55 and £38 respectively, but knocked them down to £25 each for me.
Bears come in all shapes and sizes, from ones that reach your waist to ones that can balance on your little finger. The aptly named Shoebutton Bears are no more than 4-6cm. They also make little woodland sets for you to house them in. It's the wildlife version of Polly in my Pocket.
While most artists create original bears, some decide to create popular characters. Most common are Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and Sooty, mainly because they are actually bears. At the convention, however, I saw some other creative ideas as well. These included Gapetto, Puss in Boots, Captain Jack by Jo Bears, and Jenny from Call The Midwives.
There are many different styles of bear, but if you want to generalise, I'd divide them into anthropomorphic and realistic. When you see the realistic bears, they are jaw dropping. There were two artists that I considered the most impressive. One specialised in dogs, and did the most spectacular terriers, while the other is called Bear Bits, and had a polar bear on display that they were planning to enter into a competition.
Do you like your bears au naturel or with modesty? For those who like to dress their bears you can find stall-holders selling handmade accessories, including jackets, hats, scarves, and booties. These usually range from £3-£5.
When you can finally bare (sorry) no more, Kensington Town Hall has a café on the first floor, where you can grab refreshments and take the weight off your feet. The next Teddies Fest is on the 13th September. See you there.